Community, Council to Weigh in on Annexation Plans

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City Council convenes for B Session after their break during the month of July.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

City Council's B Session convenes.

While the City of San Antonio mulls annexing up to eight commercial corridors and enclaves, the state legislature continues to consider legislation that would reduce annexation authority of home-rule cities.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg and the new Council were briefed by City staff on the latest annexation proposals Wednesday. Staff recommended pursuing the annexation of five areas out of nine that were studied.

A public hearing took place about the plan in Council chambers Wednesday night and it will host another on Wednesday, Aug. 9 at 6 p.m.

City staff recommended proceeding with annexation of two corridors, areas surrounding Babcock Road and Potranco Road/Loop 1604, and three enclave areas around Vance Jackson/Loop 1604, Foster Road, and Interstate 10/Loop 1604.

City staff advised against annexing three other corridors: Interstate 10 West, Culebra Road/Alamo Ranch Parkway, and Wiseman Boulevard.

Deputy City Manager Peter Zanoni said most of these properties are undeveloped. The City's service plan for annexations projects property and sales tax revenues against expenses in lands to be annexed.

City officials have also eyed areas near two military installations – Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland and Camp Bullis – to help provide land use protections against encroaching development.

City staff is working to provide information on a ninth area, a tiny unincorporated residential neighborhood on West Bitters Road. This tract could change hands through an extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) adjustment with Hill Country Village.

A small, unincorporated residential neighborhood on West Bitters Road is still being considered for annexation by the City of San Antonio.

Courtesy / City of San Antonio

A small, unincorporated residential neighborhood on West Bitters Road is still being considered for annexation by the City of San Antonio.

The City projects a net revenue gain in many of the areas eyed for this round of annexation. But it could lose more than $97 million over 20 years if it were to add two commercial corridors: I-10 West and Wiseman. 

The City could also lose more than $86 million over 20 years by annexing the Potranco corridors, but it could be in a stronger position to help protect Lackland through the Potranco annexation than it could help Camp Bullis with the I-10 West addition.

During his years on Council representing District 8, Nirenberg had called for a new review of the City's annexation policy. In June 2014, the Council prioritized five areas for annexation.

The City has since approved full or limited purpose annexations of properties in South Bexar County, along Neal Road, and along U.S. 281 north of 1604.

San Antonio also has begun a 17-year, phased boundary adjustment in which Converse will be adding neighborhoods and properties along I-10 East and in unincorporated Bexar County.

Zanoni said annexation is a means to properly regulate a city's outward expansion, promote economic growth, finance basic services and capital projects, and protect sensitive areas such as military installations.

"Annexation helps with zoning control," Zanoni said.

The City has grown from 36 square miles in 1940 to a current 506 square miles. Zanoni cited a study from David Rusk of the Metropolitan Area Research Corp., which projected a 6% local population decrease if San Antonio had not been allowed to expand beyond its 1950 limits.

The study also estimated that, without annexation, San Antonio's poverty rate would be almost twice the metropolitan average, and that its average household income would be only 63% of the metro average.

Nirenberg was surprised by the projected negative financial impact to the City with the I-10 West annexation. He also voiced concern that, by possibly passing up this annexation, San Antonio could give up a chance to explore impervious cover percentages in San Antonio's ETJ. Some of the corridor lies above the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone.

The state legislature is advancing proposals that would give residents in areas eyed for annexation by a home-rule city a vote on annexation.

Several Council members said they are more concerned that such measures could threaten a City's ability to provide land use protections near military installations.

Senate Bill 6 and House Bill 2221 both offer military base buffers smaller than desired by municipal leaders opposing the proposed annexation limitations. Both bills would void any incomplete annexations in the state.

Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) said state lawmakers have practically ignored pleas from San Antonio leaders when it comes to ensuring protections for local military missions from encroaching development. Many state legislators and property owners supporting curbs on annexation have rejected the military base protection arguments.

San Antonio is not typically "over aggressive" when it comes to annexation, Saldaña said.

"You really can't separate the annexation argument from the military argument," he added.

San Antonio "has the most to lose" because of its military bases, said Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3).

Nirenberg said ETJ residents and those already living inside the City do share common concerns about sprawl mitigation. For example, land use regulations can help a community worried about how encroaching development encroachment could affect a local greenbelt.

The mayor added those tools "can help them preserve their quality of life and provide some semblance of managed growth."

People in these areas are concerned about being subjected to more regulations and taxes.

Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) said he empathized with them, but noted that most of them work, study, recreate, receive medical care and take advantage of amenities that San Antonio residents pay for.

"When someone tells me 'I don't want to be a San Antonian,' I tell them you've been one for a long time," Pelaez said. "That argument rings hollow. It's a little intellectually dishonest."

But Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) said the City should not be dismissive of property owners who feel their livelihoods are threatened by annexation.

"It's startling, the lack of respect for private property rights," he said.

Annexation-limiting proposals that are being considered by the state legislature, however, are not necessarily the answer, he said, but unilateral annexation as a policy should be reviewed.

Large cities like San Antonio should address their aging infrastructural needs first prior to considering annexation, he said. "We should take care of our house before we go to someone else's."

Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) echoed these concerns and questioned the analysis offered by Rusk and is worried that San Antonio is not spending enough money to maintain its existing streets and drainage, especially in older parts of town.

The City presently is spending $64 million on road maintenance and overlay citywide. City Manager Sheryl Sculley said her staff will propose boosting that number in the fiscal year 2018 budget.

"I don't believe the annexation policies that we have followed are controlling the growth," Gonzales added.

The Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed I-10 West commercial corridor annexation at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 10 at Fair Oaks Ranch City Hall.

The Planning and Zoning commissions will also host hearings Wednesday, Aug. 9 and Tuesday, Aug. 15, respectively, on the plan for the eight targeted commercial corridors and enclaves. Council will vote on the proposed annexation plan on Aug. 31.

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